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State of the economy highlights growth, Rays

Mark Parker



Mayor Ken Welch (front left), and Cathie Wood, founder and CEO of ARK Invest, share a moment Thursday evening after the State of the Economy event. Photos by Mark Parker.

Pinellas County continues attracting new residents, and the overwhelming majority are choosing to live in St. Petersburg.

The tagline for Thursday evening’s 2024 State of the Economy event was “inclusive progress – one data point at a time.” A procession of city officials presented a wealth of information, primarily highlighting St. Petersburg’s progress, to a packed crowd at the ARK Innovation Center.

One particularly lopsided bar graph compared municipal population increases throughout the county. Brian Caper, economic and workforce development director, noted that St. Petersburg gained 7,500 residents in the past three years, or 48% of all new residents.

Largo was a distant second at 12%. “This demonstrates that St. Petersburg continues to be one of the primary economic drivers for not only the county but the region as well,” Caper said.

A graphic highlighting St. Petersburg’s growth compared to other cities. Screengrab.

Mayor Ken Welch began the data-filled event by stating that the city has recently established a unique brand and cultural identity. He also expressed his administration’s focus on fostering positive community impacts.

“It’s gratifying to see the rest of the nation recognizing the vibe and vitality that defines us, and we definitely have the awards and accolades to prove it,” Welch said. “We’ve seen not only a growth in our population (265,782) but also robust and inclusive economic growth.”

However, the third slide highlighted workforce disparities. Most jobs exist downtown or on the city’s northern boundary in the Gateway area. Employment opportunities drop precipitously in South St. Pete.

Help is on the way. Recently established programs in the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) provide small business grants, entrepreneurial mentorship and equity in city contracts and procurement processes.

Overall, job growth exceeds pre-pandemic and county, region and state levels. St. Petersburg’s unemployment rate is at 2.7%, below the region and state’s 2.9% average.

Raymond James, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Publix and Jabil are the city’s top private-sector employers. Caper noted that the Tampa Bay Rays ranked 10th with over 4,000 employees during baseball season.

Caper said the Historic Gas Plant District’s redevelopment – led by the team and Hines – “will not only generate tens of thousands of construction, trade and permanent jobs but also retain existing jobs that are currently created by the Tampa Bay Rays.”

A graphic showing taxable values in the South St. Petersburg CRA reaching $2 billion. Screengrab.

The $6.5 billion project was mentioned early and often at the event. In addition to jobs, officials noted it would provide much-needed office space.

Caper said there is essentially no office space downtown. He explained that those market-rate rents are $31.65 per square foot, and developers must typically charge $70 per square foot to invest in new buildings.

“This indicates that not only do we have a way to go for the market to generate new offices, but it really highlights the importance of public-private partnerships,” Caper added. “Especially in downtown, like the Orange Station project and the Historic Gas Plant redevelopment.”

Cathie Wood, founder and CEO of ARK Invest, endorsed the Rays’ plan to transform Tropicana Field and its surrounding parking lots into a vibrant mixed-use community. She also has a plan to help fill a new ballpark during the offseason.

“So, in other words, you can count ARK in,” Wood said.

She also announced plans to launch an early-stage venture capital fund. Wood is now looking for seed money to launch the investment vehicle and said it would introduce and attract new tech startups to St. Petersburg.

Wood said it would help expand the recently opened Innovation Center. She also stressed the importance of creating a local talent pipeline, starting with children.

A partnership with Pinellas County Schools already provides middle school students with a technologically focused curriculum. “But our vision there is from toddlers through high school,” Wood said.

Rays’ president Matt Silverman said a reimagined Gas Plant would encompass eight million square feet of redeveloped space. He added that the two-decade project would allow workers and businesses to gain experience and build the capacity to flourish indefinitely.

In addition to the ballpark, which will open in 2028 during the first phase, Silverman said a new performance venue will hold about 5,000 people. He said shops and restaurants embodying the city’s character would combine with apartments, hotels, office buildings, healthcare facilities and parks to create a “walkable 20-minute neighborhood.”

“When complete, 70 acres of asphalt will be converted into a thriving neighborhood – and one that actually generates property taxes,” Silverman said. “This transformational project will not be easy; it will not be without its hiccups. But the end result will be powerful, and it will be a great source of pride.”

St. Petersburg’s taxable value in 2023 was $31 billion. Screengrab.

To view the presentation, visit the website here.





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  1. Avatar

    Karyn Mueller

    March 29, 2024at8:54 pm

    Strike a better deal for St Pete! Taking out $700 million in debt to pay for a stadium while we have other much more important priorities is bad for the residents. We have to pay the bond debt back with property taxes out of the Intown CRA. The hole left in tax revenues out of the CRA means the rest of the taxpayers have to make up the difference. 50% of the property taxes paid by the residents of the new high rise 400 Central will go to the stadium. Along with all the expensive real estate on Central Avenue and Beach Drive. A new high rise built by one NY billionaire paying for another NY billionaires stadium. That doesn’t even account for the land giveaway of 60 prime acres of real estate to the team. Contact me if you want a yard sign to Strike a Better Deal for St Petersburg.

  2. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    March 29, 2024at5:49 pm

    How can I take my kids to a Rays game with a smile on my face if this deal goes through?
    Please help my family root for the home team. Hammer out a deal that actually benefits St. Pete residents instead of robbing us blind.

  3. Avatar


    March 28, 2024at6:56 pm

    Not one person in St. Petersburg believes this town is going in the right direction. Rich? Poor? Black? White?

    So the economy has expanded? So what? So the population is higher? So what?

    The quality of life in st Pete plateaued during the pandemic. Sure, we might have been lucky in not imploding…

    My taxes have gone up and the quality of life has not improved.

    All I see from Welch and city hall is “line must go up”. How that helps residents is anyone’s guess.

    But these metrics are completely and totally at odds with what mattered. This town is going no where fast. Hope you like Miami and New York and San Francisco.


  4. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    March 28, 2024at6:55 pm

    Well, well. The State of the Economy started by the Kriseman administration is finally back. But even this presentation can’t hide how bad the city negotiated the Rays deal. When the final development agreement ever comes out, ask yourself two questions:

    1. How much is the city spending vs the Rays against the revenue that both receive and/or give up from the deal and

    2. What amount of development is actually guaranteed on the site and when will it occur.

    You will see that the city has all the risk and the Rays have all the rewards. Terrible, terrible deal. The last thing St Pete deserves is spending and giving up all this money and not having any leverage to require development performance. It means the Rays will do what they want when they want. The city will regret this deal in the future.

    Don’t fall for the Music Man and selfish marketing. Stay strong St Pete. Oh, and ask yourself one final question:

    3. How can anyone really judge this deal without a finished Term Sheet and no public Development Agreement (DA) to look at? The DA will be published two weeks before Council consideration and Welch will be counting on no one reading it closely. It will be a mess with more holes than swiss cheese.

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